Like a 7th grader waiting for a boy to ask me to slow dance, I’ve been waiting for someone to invite me to their Passover Seder. Finally, after 29 years, my girlfriend Danielle popped the question. I was thrilled, and immediately offered to cook an appropriate dish. I was assigned brisket. I researched recipes for days, toiling over various options, until finally my friend Tal offered to give me her personal recipe and her brisket pan. The instructions were vague. So were the measurements. But I date men in Los Angeles, so trust me, I can work with vague.
I started the brisket the evening before the dinner having learned that the flavors of any stew-like concoction is enhanced after gelling overnight. After a series of chopping, browning, boiling and roasting, I shoved the pan in my oven with 3 1/2 hours to kill. During that time, my friend David and I strolled over to The Surly Goat, my local beer bar of choice, and guzzled a pair of New Belgium Lips of Faith.
Back home, the brisket has burgeoned into a smoldering pot of motley stew, if you will. The hunk of meat, at first dense and thewy, is now so tender that a simple flick of a fork pulls a tender bite. A taste test allows me to re-season the dish and let it cool.
“It’s customary to drink four glasses of wine at this dinner,” Danielle greets us when myself and friends Paul and Hank flood into her home the next night.
“My type of holiday,” I respond.
The dinner includes twenty-five 20-somethings and even more bottles of wine. Paul, Hank and I slide in to the end of the table and toast to our first Passover. And guess who gets to start the ceremony with a reading from the Haggadah? I stumble through it, proudly. Even though we spoon the matzah ball soup out of paper bowls, it’s the best I’ve tasted. Then I pile a plate with spinach kugel, latkes, and stuffed cabbage, which reminds me of my mother’s Polish golabkis. I exhale with relief at the first compliment on the brisket, and the rest of the meal is a blur of chatter, toasts, and laughter.
I surpass the requirement of the four glass minimum (I knew I would), and once the majority of the guests exit after dinner, Paul, Hank, Danielle and I shuffle out to the balcony. Under the open air we kick back on a couch, and uncork a new bottle of wine. Then we philosophize about relationships and puff Dominican Republic cigars, while I continue to remark, “I love Passover Seder!” We polish off a few more bottles of red. I was newly single, and the buzz of the evening made my heart whop, as if my whole life pointed to this exact moment – me, smoking and drinking, single, under the L.A. smog. “There’s at least one star,” Danielle gestures as the four of gape at the atmosphere.
At some point, perhaps amongst our musings on whether we believe that “the one” exists, I doze off. My three friends tuck me under a blanket and let me slumber under the solitary star that continues to linger in the sky.
Solitary Star Brisket
Adapted (with actual measurements) from Tal’s Recipe
4 lbs. brisket
2 large onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 carrots, thickly sliced
2 parsnips, chopped
1 celery stick, sliced
12 oz. dark beer (I prefer a dark Belgium ale)
1 cup of chicken stock
1/4 cup of tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chili flakes
Handful of parsley leaves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 325 °F. Wash the brisket, and dry it with paper towels. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper.
In a heavy pan which can be later transferred to the oven, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in medium heat. Add the brisket and sear until browned on all sides, approximately 15 minutes. Remove the brisket, and set aside.
In the same pan add oil, carrots, onions and parsnip; sauté until onion is golden. Then add the remaining ingredients, season to taste, and bring to boil. Return the brisket to the pan, cover, and roast for about 3 1/2 hours. Break apart brisket or slice against the grain. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm in oven.)